July 25th, 2010
The White House responded swiftly and sharply to publication Sunday evening of more than 91,000 secret documents painting a bleak picture of the Afghanistan war, calling the leak “irresponsible” and saying that the source – the whistleblower website WikiLeaks — “opposes U.S. policy in Afghanistan.”
WikiLeaks said its "Afghan War Diary" consists mostly of reports "written by soldiers and intelligence officers ... describing lethal military actions involving the United States military." WikiLeaks gave three news organizations – The New York Times, The (British) Guardian and Germany’s Der Spiegel – advance access to the "war logs" trove.
White House National Security Adviser James Jones issued a statement that begins: “The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security.
“Wikileaks made no effort to contact us about these documents – the United States government learned from news organizations that these documents would be posted. These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people.
“The documents posted by Wikileaks reportedly cover a period of time from January 2004 to December 2009. On December 1, 2009, President Obama announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on al Qaeda and Taliban safe-havens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years.”
An administration official went further in an e-mail to reporters: “I don’t think anyone who follows this issue will find it surprising that there are concerns about ISI and safe havens in Pakistan. In fact, we’ve said as much repeatedly and on the record. …
“The period of time covered in these documents (January 2004-December 2009) is before the President announced his new strategy. Some of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the President ordered a three month policy review and a change in strategy.”
The official added: “[I]t’s worth noting that WikiLeaks is not an objective news outlet but rather an organization that opposes U.S. policy in Afghanistan."
The official highlighted this passage in The Guardian’s coverage: “[F]or all their eye-popping details, the intelligence files, which are mostly collated by junior officers relying on informants and Afghan officials, fail to provide a convincing smoking gun for ISI complicity. Most of the reports are vague, filled with incongruent detail, or crudely fabricated. The same characters – famous Taliban commanders, well-known ISI officials – and scenarios repeatedly pop up. And few of the events predicted in the reports subsequently occurred.
“A retired senior American officer said ground-level reports were considered to be a mixture of ‘rumours, [baloney] and second-hand information’ and were weeded out as they passed up the chain of command. ‘As someone who had to sift through thousands of these reports, I can say that the chances of finding any real information are pretty slim,’ said the officer, who has years of experience in the region.
“If anything, the jumble of allegations highlights the perils of collecting accurate intelligence in a complex arena where all sides have an interest in distorting the truth.”
July 25th, 2010
Scientists celebrated Sunday after finding more than 700 suspected new planets -- including up to 140 similar in size to Earth -- in just six weeks of using a powerful new space observatory. Past discoveries suggested most planets outside our solar system were gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn -- but the new evidence tipped the balance in favor of solid worlds. Astronomers said the discovery meant the chances of eventually finding truly Earth-like planets capable of sustaining life rose sharply. NASA so far formally announced only five new exoplanets -- those outside our solar system -- from the mission because its scientists were still analyzing Kepler’s finds to confirm they are actually planets. “The figures suggest our galaxy, the Milky Way [which has more than 100 billion stars] will contain 100 million habitable planets, and soon we will be identifying the first of them,” said Dimitar Sasselov, professor of astronomy at Harvard University and a scientist on the Kepler Mission. "There is a lot more work we need to do with this, but the statistical result is loud and clear, and it is that planets like our own Earth are out there." ________________________________________________________________________ UK Mail Online
Scientists celebrated Sunday after finding more than 700 suspected new planets -- including up to 140 similar in size to Earth -- in just six weeks of using a powerful new space observatory.
Past discoveries suggested most planets outside our solar system were gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn -- but the new evidence tipped the balance in favor of solid worlds.
Astronomers said the discovery meant the chances of eventually finding truly Earth-like planets capable of sustaining life rose sharply.
NASA so far formally announced only five new exoplanets -- those outside our solar system -- from the mission because its scientists were still analyzing Kepler’s finds to confirm they are actually planets.
“The figures suggest our galaxy, the Milky Way [which has more than 100 billion stars] will contain 100 million habitable planets, and soon we will be identifying the first of them,” said Dimitar Sasselov, professor of astronomy at Harvard University and a scientist on the Kepler Mission. "There is a lot more work we need to do with this, but the statistical result is loud and clear, and it is that planets like our own Earth are out there."
UK Mail Online
By James White
Hundreds of new planets have been discovered by Nasa's new space probe, sparking new hope of life outside our solar system.
Up to 140 of the newly-found planets are rocky and Earth-like containing both land and water, conditions which could allow simple lifeforms to develop.
The Kepler probe - which constantly monitors more than 150,000 stars for tell-tale signs of planets orbiting them - also may have found five new solar systems, Nasa said.
Discoveries: An artist's impression of the Kepler spacecraft, which uses an astonishing 95 megapixel digital camera to look deep into outer space
'While an exhaustive study remains to be done, the implication is that many planetary systems have multiple planets,' William Borucki, the mission's principle investigator said.
The data relates to the first six weeks of the probe's four-year mission after it was launched last year.
Scientists hope the early discoveries will lead to many more, including multi-planetary systems which give life a better chance to evolve.
The Kepler space probe examines distant stars by monitoring the light they give off.
Field of view: The Kepler spacecraft is examining three constellations containing 156,000 stars
New planets orbiting such stars will block radiating light, and this tiny decrease is measured and interpreted to show the size and nature of the objects.
The probe monitors three constellations - Cygnus, Lyra and Draco using a special telescope equipped with a 95 megapixel camera.
To qualify as a 'candidate planet', the telescope must record light being distorted three times to ensure the results are not just an anomaly.
The initial findings mean the number of habitable planets in space could run into millions.
More of the same? The probe has revealed a number of planets, may believed to be similar to Earth
Professor Dimitri Sasselov, another member of the Kepler team, said: 'The next step after Kepler will be to study the atmospheres of the planets and see if we can see signs of life.'
Planets found so far include CoRoT - 7b, a rocky glove almost five times the mass of Earth but with a molten side because it orbits its star extremely closely.
The largest is Wasp-17b, which has a radius of 66,000 miles compared with Earth's 3,963 miles.
July 25th, 2010
This article is by Mark Mazzetti, Jane Perlez, Eric Schmitt and Andrew W. Lehren.
Americans fighting the war in Afghanistan have long harbored strong suspicions that Pakistan’s military spy service has guided the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand, even as Pakistan receives more than $1 billion a year from Washington for its help combating the militants, according to a trove of secret military field reports to be made public Sunday.
The documents, to be made available by an organization called WikiLeaks, suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.
Taken together, the reports indicate that American soldiers on the ground are inundated with accounts of a network of Pakistani assets and collaborators that runs from the Pakistani tribal belt along the Afghan border, through southern Afghanistan, and all the way to the capital, Kabul.
Much of the information — raw intelligence and threat assessments gathered from the field in Afghanistan— cannot be verified and likely comes from sources aligned with Afghan intelligence, which considers Pakistan an enemy, and paid informants. Some describe plots for attacks that do not appear to have taken place.
But many of the reports rely on sources that the military rated as reliable.
While current and former American officials interviewed could not corroborate individual reports, they said that the portrait of the spy agency’s collaboration with the Afghan insurgency was broadly consistent with other classified intelligence.
Some of the reports describe Pakistani intelligence working alongside Al Qaeda to plan attacks. Experts cautioned that although Pakistan’s militant groups and Al Qaeda work together, directly linking the Pakistani spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, with Al Qaeda is difficult.
The records also contain firsthand accounts of American anger at Pakistan’s unwillingness to confront insurgents who launched attacks near Pakistani border posts, moved openly by the truckload across the frontier, and retreated to Pakistani territory for safety.
The behind-the-scenes frustrations of soldiers on the ground and glimpses of what appear to be Pakistani skullduggery contrast sharply with the frequently rosy public pronouncements of Pakistan as an ally by American officials, looking to sustain a drone campaign over parts of Pakistani territory to strike at Qaeda havens. Administration officials also want to keep nuclear-armed Pakistan on their side to safeguard NATO supplies flowing on routes that cross Pakistan to Afghanistan.
This month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in one of the frequent visits by American officials to Islamabad, announced $500 million in assistance and called the United States and Pakistan “partners joined in common cause.”
The reports suggest, however, the Pakistani military has acted as both ally and enemy, as its spy agency runs what American officials have long suspected is a double game — appeasing certain American demands for cooperation while angling to exert influence in Afghanistan through many of the same insurgent networks that the Americans are fighting to eliminate.
Behind the scenes, both Bush and Obama administration officials as well as top American commanders have confronted top Pakistani military officers with accusations of ISI complicity in attacks in Afghanistan, and even presented top Pakistani officials with lists of ISI and military operatives believed to be working with militants.
Benjamin Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said that Pakistan had been an important ally in the battle against militant groups, and that Pakistani soldiers and intelligence officials had worked alongside the United States to capture or kill Qaeda and Taliban leaders.
Still, he said that the “status quo is not acceptable,” and that the havens for militants in Pakistan “pose an intolerable threat” that Pakistan must do more to address.
“The Pakistani government — and Pakistan’s military and intelligence services — must continue their strategic shift against violent extremist groups within their borders,” he said. American military support to Pakistan would continue, he said.
Several Congressional officials said that despite repeated requests over the years for information about Pakistani support for militant groups, they usually receive vague and inconclusive briefings from the Pentagon and C.I.A.
Nonetheless, senior lawmakers say they have no doubt that Pakistan is aiding insurgent groups. “The burden of proof is on the government of Pakistan and the ISI to show they don’t have ongoing contacts,” said Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat on the Armed Services Committee who visited Pakistan this month and said he and Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee chairman, confronted Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, yet again over the allegations.
Such accusations are usually met with angry denials, particularly by the Pakistani military, which insists that the ISI severed its remaining ties to the groups years ago. An ISI spokesman in Islamabad said Sunday that the agency would have no comment until it saw the documents.
The man the United States has depended on for cooperation in fighting the militants and who holds most power in Pakistan, the head of the army, Gen. Parvez Ashfaq Kayani, ran the ISI from 2004 to 2007, a period from which many of the reports are drawn. American officials have frequently praised General Kayani for what they say are his efforts to purge the military of officers with ties to militants.
American officials have described Pakistan’s spy service as a rigidly hierarchical organization that has little tolerance for “rogue” activity. But Pakistani military officials give the spy service’s “S Wing” — which runs external operations against the Afghan government and India — broad autonomy, a buffer that allows top military officials deniability.
American officials have rarely uncovered definitive evidence of direct ISI involvement in a major attack. But in July 2008, the C.I.A.’s deputy director, Stephen R. Kappes, confronted Pakistani officials with evidence that the ISI helped plan the deadly suicide bombing of India’s Embassy in Kabul.
From the current trove, one report shows that Polish intelligence warned of a complex attack against the Indian Embassy a week before that bombing, though the attackers and their methods differed. The ISI was not named in the report warning of the attack. Read the Document »
Another, dated August 2008, identifies a colonel in the ISI plotting with a Taliban official to assassinate President Hamid Karzai. The report says there was no information about how or when this would be carried out. The account could not be verified.
General Linked to Militants
Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul ran the ISI from 1987 to 1989, a time when Pakistani spies and the C.I.A. joined forces to run guns and money to Afghan militias who were battling Soviet troops in Afghanistan. After the fighting stopped, he maintained his contacts with the former mujahedeen, who would eventually transform themselves into the Taliban.
And more than two decades later, it appears that General Gul is still at work. The documents indicate that he has worked tirelessly to reactivate his old networks, employing familiar allies like Jaluluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose networks of thousands of fighters are responsible for waves of violence in Afghanistan.
General Gul is mentioned so many times in the reports, if they are to be believed, that it seems unlikely that Pakistan’s current military and intelligence officials could not know of at least some of his wide-ranging activities.
For example, one intelligence report describes him meeting with a group of militants in Wana, the capital of South Waziristan, in January 2009. There, he met with three senior Afghan insurgent commanders and three “older” Arab men, presumably representatives of Al Qaeda, who the report suggests were important “because they had a large security contingent with them.” Read the Document »
The gathering was designed to hatch a plan to avenge the death of “Zamarai,” the nom de guerre of Osama al-Kini, who had been killed days earlier by a C.I.A. drone attack. Mr. Kini had directed Qaeda operations in Pakistan and had spearheaded some of the group’s most devastating attacks.
The plot hatched in Wana that day, according to the report, involved driving a dark blue Mazda truck rigged with explosives from South Waziristan to Afghanistan’s Paktika Province, a route well known to be used by the insurgents to move weapons, suicide bombers and fighters from Pakistan.
In a show of strength, the Taliban leaders approved a plan to send 50 Arab and 50 Waziri fighters to Ghazni Province in Afghanistan, the report said.
General Gul urged the Taliban commanders to focus their operations inside Afghanistan in exchange for Pakistan turning “a blind eye” to their presence in Pakistan’s tribal areas. It was unclear whether the attack was ever executed.
The United States has pushed the United Nations to put General Gul on a list of international terrorists, and top American officials said they believed he was an important link between active-duty Pakistani officers and militant groups.
General Gul, who says he is retired and lives on his pension, dismissed the allegations as “absolute nonsense,” by telephone from his home in Rawalpindi, where the Pakistani Army keeps its headquarters. “I have had no hand in it.” He added: “American intelligence is pulling cotton wool over your eyes.”
Senior Pakistani officials consistently deny that General Gul still works at the ISI’s behest, though several years ago, after mounting American complaints, Pakistan’s president at the time, Pervez Musharraf, was forced publicly to acknowledge the possibility that former ISI officials were assisting the Afghan insurgency.
Despite his denials, General Gul makes television appearances and keeps close ties to his former employers. When a reporter visited General Gul this spring for an interview at his home, the former spy master canceled the appointment. According to his son, he had to attend meetings at army headquarters.
Suicide Bomber Network
The reports also chronicle efforts by ISI officers to run the networks of suicide bombers that emerged as a sudden, terrible force in Afghanistan in 2006.
The detailed reports indicate that American officials had a relatively clear understanding of how the suicide networks presumably functioned, even if some of the threats did not materialize. It is impossible to know why the attacks never came off — either they were thwarted, the attackers shifted targets, or the reports were deliberately planted as Taliban disinformation.
One report, from Dec. 18, 2006, describes a cyclical process to develop the suicide bombers. First, the suicide attacker is recruited and trained in Pakistan. Then, reconnaissance and operational planning gets under way, including scouting to find a place for “hosting” the suicide bomber near the target before carrying out the attack. The network, it says, receives help from the Afghan police and the Ministry of Interior. Read the Document »
In many cases, the reports are complete with names and ages of bombers, as well as license plate numbers, but the Americans gathering the intelligence struggle to accurately portray many other details, introducing sometimes comical renderings of places and Taliban commanders.
In one case, a report rated by the American military as credible states that a gray Toyota Corolla had been loaded with explosives between the Afghan border and Landik Hotel, in Pakistan, apparently a mangled reference to Landi Kotal, in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The target of the plot, however, is a real hotel in downtown Kabul, the Ariana.
“It is likely that ISI may be involved as supporter of this attack,” reads a comment in the report.
Several of the reports describe current and former ISI operatives, including General Gul, visiting madrassas near the city of Peshawar, a gateway to the tribal areas, to recruit new fodder for suicide bombings.
One report, labeled a “real threat warning” because of its detail and the reliability of its source, described how commanders of Mr. Hekmatyar’s insurgent group, Hezb-i-Islami, ordered the delivery of a suicide bomber from the Hashimiye madrassa, run by Afghans. Read the Document »
The boy was to be used in an attack on American or NATO vehicles in Kabul during the Muslim Festival of Sacrifices that opened Dec. 31, 2006. According to the report, the boy was taken to the Afghan city of Jalalabad to buy a car for the bombing, and was later brought to Kabul. It was unclear whether the attack took place.
The documents indicate that the these types of activities continued throughout last year. From July to October 2009, nine threat reports detailed movements by Taliban suicide bombers from Pakistan into populated areas of Afghanistan, including Kandahar, Kunduz and Kabul.
Some of the bombers were sent to disrupt Afghanistan’s presidential elections, held last August. In other instances, American intelligence learned that the Haqqani network sent bombers at the ISI’s behest to strike Indian officials, development workers and engineers in Afghanistan. Other plots were aimed at the Afghan government.
Sometimes the intelligence documents twin seemingly credible detail with plots that seem fantastical or utterly implausible assertions. For instance, one report describes an ISI plan to use a remote-controlled bomb disguised as a golden Koran to assassinate Afghan government officials. Another report documents an alleged plot by the ISI and Taliban to ship poisoned alcoholic beverages to Afghanistan to kill American troops.
But the reports also charge that the ISI directly helped organize Taliban offensives at key junctures of the war. On June 19, 2006, ISI operatives allegedly met with the Taliban leaders in Quetta, the city in southern Pakistan where American and other Western officials have long believed top Taliban leaders have been given refuge by the Pakistani authorities.
At the meeting, according to the report, they pressed the Taliban to mount attacks on Maruf, a district of Kandahar that lies along the Pakistani border.
The planned offensive would be carried out primarily by Arabs and Pakistanis, the report said, and a Taliban commander, “Akhtar Mansoor,” warned that the men should be prepared for heavy losses. “The foreigners agreed to this operation and have assembled 20 4x4 trucks to carry the fighters into areas in question,” it said.
While the specifics about the foreign fighters and the ISI are difficult to verify, the Taliban did indeed mount an offensive to seize control in Maruf in 2006.
Afghan government officials and Taliban fighters have widely acknowledged that the offensive was led by the Taliban commander Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, who was then the Taliban shadow governor of Kandahar.
Mullah Mansour tried to claw out a base for himself inside Afghanistan, but just as the report quotes him predicting, the Taliban suffered heavy losses and eventually pulled back.
Another report goes on to describe detailed plans for a large-scale assault, timed for September 2007, aimed at the American forward operating base in Managi, in Kunar Province.
“It will be a five-pronged attack consisting of 83-millimeter artillery, rockets, foot soldiers, and multiple suicide bombers,” it says.
It is not clear that the attack ever came off, but its planning foreshadowed another, seminal attack that came months later, in July 2008.
At that time, about 200 Taliban insurgents nearly overran an American base in Wanat, in Nuristan, killing nine American soldiers. For the Americans, it was one of the highest single-day tolls of the war.
Tensions With Pakistan
The flood of reports of Pakistani complicity in the insurgency has at times led to barely disguised tensions between American and Pakistani officers on the ground.
Meetings at border outposts set up to develop common strategies to seal the frontier and disrupt Taliban movements reveal deep distrust among the Americans of their Pakistani counterparts.
On Feb. 7, 2007, American officers met with Pakistani troops on a dry riverbed to discuss the borderlands surrounding Afghanistan’s Khost Province.
According to notes from the meeting, the Pakistanis portrayed their soldiers as conducting around-the-clock patrols. Asked if he expected a violent spring, a man identified in the report as Lt. Col. Bilal, the Pakistani officer in charge, said no. His troops were in firm control.
The Americans were incredulous. Their record noted that there had been a 300 percent increase in militant activity in Khost before the meeting.
“This comment alone shows how disconnected this particular group of leadership is from what is going on in reality,” the notes said.
The Pakistanis told the Americans to contact them if they spotted insurgent activity along the border. “I doubt this would do any good,” the American author of the report wrote, “because PAKMIL/ISI is likely involved with the border crossings.” “PAKMIL” refers to the Pakistani military.
A year earlier, the Americans became so frustrated at the increase in roadside bombs in Afghanistan that they hand-delivered folders with names, locations, aerial photographs and map coordinates to help the Pakistani military hunt down the militants the Americans believed were responsible.
Nothing happened, wrote Col. Barry Shapiro, an American military liaison officer with experience in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, after an Oct. 13, 2006, meeting.
“Despite the number of reports and information detailing the concerns,” Colonel Shapiro wrote, “we continue to see no change in the cross-border activity and continue to see little to no initiative along the PAK border” by Pakistan troops. The Pakistani Army “will only react when asked to do so by U.S. forces,” he concluded.
July 25th, 2010
- The Obama White House is responding to calls and letters from Florida Dems. unhappy with
Carol E. Lee
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The White House has quietly launched an effort to confront the political backlash along the Gulf Coast over its handling of the BP oil spill – giving special attention to Florida, the only state in the region President Barack Obama won in 2008 and one he will need again when he runs for re-election in 2012.
The White House dispatched political and communications aides to the Gulf Coast states on July 12, with Alabama and Mississippi each receiving one, sources familiar with the effort said. Some aides went to Louisiana. Florida received four.
The battleground state will be a heavy lift. In interviews along the coast, Florida Democrats accused the administration of largely ignoring their calls and letters, and complained of a White House that’s out of touch.
Alex Sink, Florida’s chief financial officer and presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee, even characterized Vice President Joe Biden’s recent visit to the state as “a screw-up,” saying she was “embarrassed” by his speech.
“It was just so off-target and out of touch with the reality of what’s going on over there,” Sink said in an interview at the Florida Democratic Party headquarters in Tallahassee.
It’s the type of criticism the White House wants to avoid. The administration aides in Florida function similarly to a campaign. They do rapid response and media coordination, and they report back to senior aides in the West Wing in nearly real time about what they’re hearing on the ground.
The effort came about after the White House grew concerned over political damage from not having a permanent presence in the Gulf Coast states. Obama’s top advisers summoned a small group of young, former campaign staffers working in the administration to the White House for a meeting, said a source with knowledge of the meeting. No one mentioned 2012 specifically, but it was clear the administration’s approach to the oil spill had the potential to hurt the president’s re-election campaign, and the issue required more hands-on attention.
“Someone recognized that all we were doing was playing defense,” an administration official said. The aides were sent to the Gulf Coast five days later.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the officials are on the Gulf Coast to ensure an effective response but did not offer details of the effort.
"This was an unprecedented disaster, the likes of [which] we haven't ever seen," Gibbs said. "We moved folks there as the disaster lasted longer and needed to ensure we had the personnel there to do what needed to be done to respond effectively."
The Florida team arrived in New Orleans to begin a series of briefings that took them to Mobile, Ala., and ultimately, Tallahassee, Fla. They set up shop in Florida's Emergency Operations Center, where they work alongside the Coast Guard and down the hall from BP and state officials.
Their task is to improve the administration’s outreach with local leaders, and to tend to political fields the White House has largely neglected. The immediate focus is on residual angst in the Panhandle, the area hit hardest by the oil spill.
But the White House also has its eye cast further south, to areas along the Gulf Coast that were pivotal in putting Obama over the top in Florida in 2008: the traditionally conservative counties around Tampa and St. Petersburg, down to Sarasota.
The political stakes are clear. Obama’s approval rating in Florida is around 40 percent. His numbers in red states that he picked up in the election, such as Virginia and North Carolina, make his 2008 campaign’s 50-state strategy look increasingly implausible for 2012, elevating the importance of Florida.
And within Florida, the Tampa Bay area on the west end of the I-4 corridor is key for Obama. Yet it is here where anxious residents, small business owners and elected officials languished for months without answers from the administration about what to expect and how to prepare for oil to wash ashore. Oil never arrived – and by most predictions never will – but the damage was done.
Now the region’s economies are suffering under the perception that there’s oil on their shores, crippling the tourism and fishing industries. BP recently opened an office in the area, and in Miami, but White House officials have yet to make an appearance. It’s created a palpable sense of disenchantment with a president many people here worked hard to get elected.
“The Obama campaign was brilliant at connecting with people emotionally, and what I’m seeing and feeling on the ground as I talk to people in Sarasota is that is not happening,” said state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, a Democrat who organized for the Obama campaign and introduced him at a rally in Sarasota two days before the election.
“And so they have some catching up to do,” Fitzgerald added. “He can’t lose those votes.”
The White House team in Florida includes Jon Wright, the Obama campaign’s deputy political director in northwest Florida who works in legislative affairs for the Commerce Department; Tom Reynolds, the campaign’s deputy communications director in Ohio and now the deputy director of public affairs at the Energy Department; Rohan Patel, the campaign’s Indiana political director who is a senior adviser to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; and Kevin Lewis, a White House press assistant who also worked on the campaign.
July 25th, 2010
PHOENIX (Reuters) – Nicaraguan mother Lorena Aguilar hawks a television set and a few clothes on the baking sidewalk outside her west Phoenix apartment block.
A few paces up the street, her undocumented Mexican neighbor Wendi Villasenor touts a kitchen table, some chairs and a few dishes as her family scrambles to get out of Arizona ahead of a looming crackdown on illegal immigrants.
"Everyone is selling up the little they have and leaving," said Villasenor, 31, who is headed for Pennsylvania. "We have no alternative. They have us cornered."
The two women are among scores of illegal immigrant families across Phoenix hauling the contents of their homes into the yard this weekend as they rush to sell up and get out before the state law takes effect on Thursday.
The law, the toughest imposed by any U.S. state to curb illegal immigration, seeks to drive more than 400,000 undocumented day laborers, landscapers, house cleaners, chambermaids and other workers out of Arizona, which borders Mexico.
It makes being an illegal immigrant a state crime and requires state and local police, during lawful contact, to investigate the status of anyone they reasonably suspect of being an illegal immigrant.
The U.S. government estimates 100,000 unauthorized migrants left Arizona after the state passed an employer sanctions law three years ago requiring companies to verify workers' status using a federal computer system. There are no figures for the number who have left since the new law passed in April.
Some are heading back to Mexico or to neighboring states. Others are staying put and taking their chances.
In a sign of a gathering exodus, Mexican businesses from grocers and butcher shops to diners and beauty salons have shut their doors in recent weeks as their owners and clients leave.
On Saturday and Sunday, Reuters counted dozens of impromptu yard sales in Latino neighborhoods in central and west Phoenix/
"They wanted to drive Hispanics out of Arizona and they have succeeded even before the law even comes into effect," said Aguilar, 28, a mother of three young children who was also offering a few cherished pictures and a stereo at one of five sales on the same block.
She said she had taken in just $20 as "everyone is selling and nobody wants to buy."
LEGAL RESIDENTS FLEE
Arizona straddles the principal highway for human and drug smugglers heading into the United States from Mexico.
The state's Republican governor, Jan Brewer, signed the law in April in a bid to curb violence and cut crime stemming from illegal immigration.
Polls show the measure is backed by a solid majority of Americans and by 65 percent of Arizona voters in this election year for some state governors, all of the U.S. House of Representatives and about a third of the 100-seat Senate.
Opponents say the law is unconstitutional and a recipe for racial profiling. It is being challenged in seven lawsuits, including one filed by President Barack Obama's administration, which wants a preliminary injunction to block the law.
A federal judge heard arguments from the lawyers for the Justice Department and Arizona on Thursday and could rule at any time.
The fight over the Arizona law has complicated the White House's effort to break the deadlock with Republicans in Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration law, an already difficult task before November's elections.
While the law targets undocumented migrants, legal residents and their U.S.-born children are getting caught up in the rush to leave Arizona.
Mexican housewife Gabriela Jaquez, 37, said she is selling up and leaving for New Mexico with her husband, who is a legal resident, and two children born in Phoenix.
"Under the law, if you transport an illegal immigrant, you are committing a crime," she said as she sold children's clothes at a yard sale with three other families. "They could arrest him for driving me to the shops."
Lunaly Bustillos, a legal resident from Mexico, hoped to sell some clothes, dumbbells and an ornamental statue on Sunday before her family heads for Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Monday.
"It makes me sad and angry too because I feel I have the right to be here," said Bustillos, 17, who recently graduated from high school in Phoenix.
(Editing by John O'Callaghan)